Middlesbrough continue to march on in their hunt for promotion after a 2-1 victory over Cardiff City at the Riverside Stadium.
The Smoggies seized the advantage of playing before all other Championship teams and now sit in second place, a point off top of the league Bournemouth who lost 1-0 away to Leeds United.
In the first half, the Bluebirds had clearly done their homework as Middlesbrough were pinned back and Cardiff’s defence were incredibly stubborn.
However, Boro eventually broke the deadlock just after the hour mark through Patrick Bamford and added a second through Lee Tomlin.
Kenwyne Jones made it a nervy last few minutes for Boro fans but the team held on to earn a second straight home win in four days.
Before the game, Middlesbrough had only lost one game from 14 and were unbeaten in 10 home games, winning six.
Cardiff hold a very poor record away from home this season, winning just one from a possible 13 away league games.
The last meeting between the two sides saw a 1-0 away win at the Cardiff City Stadium back in September with Kike grabbing the winner.
Middlesbrough had made just one change from the game at Huddersfield, Adam Reach replacing Albert Adomah who dropped to the bench, with a return to the subs for Jonathan Woodgate.
Middlesbrough started the game in blistering fashion as Tomas Kalas burst down the right hand side, freed up Patrick Bamford, he cut back for Kike but his touch was too heavy.
From then on, the half lulled as Cardiff pinned Boro back and forced them to hit the ball long rather than play their attractive passing style of play.
Clear cut chances remained a rarity as Cardiff posed no threat on goal and Kike went down in the box in contentious fashion, but the referee waved away the appeal.
Middlesbrough began to control the pace of the game and Daniel Ayala threatened from a corner but Simon Moore collected calmly.
Bamford was Boro’s main threat cutting inside from the right hand side but there was very little action to report on from this first half.
Elements of the Riverside crowd were beginning to get frustrated in the early stages of the second half. Leadbitter earned himself a yellow card for a furious reaction on a legitimate tackle.
That frustration was compounded when Kadeem Harris provided the Bluebird’s first real threat with a bending shot that was parried wide by Dimi Konstantopoulos.
The Cardiff bench jumped from their seats to the technical area after Adam Clayton and Alex Revell went in for a 50/50 and Clayton also jumped into the referees notebook.
Shortly after, Boro broke the deadlock on the counter attack when Tomlin released Reach down the left hand side, his low cross found Bamford (64′) and he eventually stroked home.
Bamford’s celebrated with head coach Aitor Karanka and the whole team showed unity by showing their appreciation to the manager.
Kike had two glorious chances to end his goal drought as he glanced a header just wide from a corner and Simon Moore did well to block his effort from 10 yards.
Middlesbrough continued to threaten on the flanks as Adomah’s low cross found Reach at the back post but he somehow ballooned over from 6 yards.
The lead was eventually doubled and was a mirror image of the first goal, Reach breaking down the left and crossing low to Tomlin (79′) who emphatically finished inside the box.
Cardiff made things nervy for Boro in the closing stages as substitute Kenwyne Jones (86′) headed low from 10 yards.
With five minutes added time, Karanka threw on Dead Whitehead to tighten up the back four but Boro held for yet another vital three pints.
After the game, Head Coach Aitor Karanka said he had similar feelings from this game to those on Saturday when they beat Huddersfield 2-0 at the Riverside.
He said: “Today was difficult because Cardiff have some very good players but we defended very well, we were confident and I’m very pleased.”
“I told the players at half time that I had the same feelings as I did on Saturday because we had to play well together and be more confident, but second half we were much better.
“The first half wasn’t the way I like it because we didn’t have much possession and we lost a lot of balls but we made them fight in the second half.”
Cardiff City manager Russell Slade admitted that the first goal was crucial and he also felt that Adam Clayton was lucky to stay on the pitch.
He said: “He was a very lucky boy not to be sent off, in my opinion he should not of been on the pitch and that could of made a difference.”
Team Line Ups
Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Dimi (GK); Kalas (90+2), Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Leadbitter (C); Bamford, Tomlin (Vossen 84′), Reach; Kike (Adomah 73′)
Unused Subs: Mejais, Woodgate, Husband, Ledesma
Cardiff City (4-5-1): Moore (GK); Brayford, Connolly, Morrison, Turner; Whittingham, Gunnarson, Adeyemi (Ralls 77′), Noone (Macheda 86′), Harris; Revell (Jones 67′)
Unused Subs: Wilson, Fabio, John, Le Fondre
Possession: Middlesbrough 53% – 47%
Shots (on target): Middlesbrough 21 (7) – 11 (6) Cardiff City
Corners: Middlesbrough 5 – 3 Cardiff City
Fouls: Middlesbrough 10 – 13 Cardiff City
Yellow Cards: Middlesbrough 3 (Clayton, Leadbitter, Vossen) – 1 (Brayford) – Cardiff City
Referee: Geoff Eltringham
www.tside.co.uk Man of the match: Patrick Bamford
Dimi Konstantopoulos – 7 – Proved once again why he is the number one keeper at the Boro but will be disappointed to of let his goal in.
Tomas Kalas – 6 – Probably his worst game in a Middlesbrough shirt but proved to be strong at the back when called upon.
Daniel Ayala – 7 – Number one centre back for Boro as he is becoming a very complete central defender with each game.
Ben Gibson – 7 – Complements Ayala very well at the back and is very composed on the ball. Another strong game.
George Friend – 6- Similar performance to the Huddersfield game. He can do better but strong at the back.
Adam Clayton – 7 – Never seems to have a bad game. Very composed and comfortable with the ball.
Grant Leadbitter – 7 – Gave his team the kick up the backside it needed to go in front. Lifted the team as captain.
Patrick Bamford – 8 – Slowly becoming the fans favourite and rightly so. A classy player with a deadly finish to match. MOM.
Lee Tomlin – 7 – Was clearly frustrated in the first half but he eventually got his goal and proved his worth to the team.
Adam Reach – 8 – Two assists and a display that shows he is one of the deadliest wingers in the Championship.
Kike – 7 – Played well again, but another frustrating game as his goal drought continues.
Subs: Adomah (6), Vossen (N/A), Whitehead (N/A)